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 Diet & Nutrition

August 2012

Junk Food And Wrinkles… It’s Your Choice!

Ishi Khosla
With fast food becoming such a large component of our diet, we are better off educating ourselves about its ill effects and focusing on promoting safe food consumption, than focus our energy on banning them, writes Ishi Khosla
With easy and round the clock availability of fast food, we have witnessed a shift from food deficiency to food abundance. The emergence of fast food, also called junk food, has continued to rise, especially amongst the upper-middle class, children and teenagers. With the 24x7 availability of such food - often only a call or a click away and easily deliverable at the doorstep – the change is not only in the quality of the food we consume but also in our eating behaviour.

Junk food is food that provides high calories with minimum nutrition. It includes food like burgers, pizzas, fried stuff such as samosas, kachoris, pakoras and mathris, and deep fried mithais. Sugar-laden beverages including soda and sherbets may also be counted as fast food.

Nutritionally, these foods are high in calories and contain poor quality fat (trans fats), have a high glycemic index, sugar, salt, preservatives, artificial colours, flavour enhancers and nutrient additives. They are low in fibre and essential nutrients -micronutrients, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The most compromised nutrients include B vitamins, folic acid, Vitamin C and iron.

The concerns on regular consumption of such foods are serious, for it has indeed escalated incidences of chronic degenerative diseases, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Not surprisingly, these diseases of adulthood are now seen in the much younger generation too. Health issues like digestive complaints including constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), fatigue, forgetfulness, and depression are increasingly a part of urban life.

Trans Fats
  • Trans fatty acids in fast food put us at greater risk of chronic degenerative diseases by raising bad cholesterol (LDL) level, lowering good cholesterol (HDL) level and increasing abnormal clotting of blood..
  • Trans fats are linked with diabetes, inflammation and cancers. The intake of trans fatty acids amounting to 2-3 g per day increases the risk for coronary heart disease by 21 per cent and the intake of more than 5 g per day is associated with 25 per cent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.
10 Steps To Safe Food Consumption
  • Prefer whole grain wraps, whole grain thin crust pizzas, multigrain sandwiches, hygienically prepared salads, roasted whole grain namkeens, grains, popcorns, bhelpuri, nuts, seeds, grams and pulse based combinations, healthy confectionary, energy and granola bars.
  • Substitute sweetened sodas with healthier drinks like unsweetened fruit juices, buttermilk, nimboo paani, skimmed/low fat milk or bottled water, sugar-free sodas and even sattu.
  • Reasonable pricing of fruits and vegetables can significantly help in increasing the consumption of appropriate foods.
  • Strict regulation on the consumption of trans fats and artificially coloured, processed and low nutrient foods.
  • Educate and spread awareness by maintaining good eating habits.
  • Read food labels and act on it before buying food products.
  • Ensure schools have such models in their curriculum – to teach and educate teachers and students.
  • Encourage and engage in physical activity.
  • Find a way to walk safe.
  • Engage and encourage kids to participate in sports and games.

Fast Food, Weight & Inflammation
Regular consumption of refined, high GI, high fat, high sugar, calorie dense fast food along with large portion sizes contributes to increased risk of obesity. Fast foods in combination with sugarsweetened sodas or other beverages further skews the energy balance and promotes weight gain. Impaired insulin balance due to regular consumption of these foods may also be accounted as a cause for obesity, especially in individuals with a family history of obesity or diabetes.

Diets with high glycemic index carbohydrates (refined starches and sugars), fats (hydrogenated saturated fats and trans-fatty acids) and red and processed meats are also associated with inflammation. Inflammation generates free radicals, which are highly damaging chemical fragments that can cause cellular damage and oxidative stress, leading to an imbalanced immune response. Several chronic diseases and conditions such as metabolic syndrome (a cluster of risk factors leading to diabetes and heart disease), multiple sclerosis, arthritis, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), diverticulitis (inflammation of diverticula in small intestine), Crohn’s disease (inflammatory digestive disorder), asthma, celiac disease (gluten intolerance), rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and ageing too have been linked to inflammation.
Ishi Khosla Clinical Nutritionist and Director Whole Foods India, New Delhi.